There is, in a more ancient part of the world, a pit. Where men are thrown to wither and die. It is said, however, that every so often, the pit spits something back.
The year is 1946, and a young child has just crawled out of the darkness.
Evanston, Illinois will never be confused with West Palm Beach. Tiny boutique shops lining crisscrossing one way streets in downtown are interrupted every few blocks by residential high rises and the occasional fast food chain. A small strip of bars towards the south constitutes what passes for a nightlife. Most residents are in bed by 9 PM.
But while most of the year-round population readies itself for a full night’s sleep, a woman is stirring in the windowless basement of the former WCTU headquarters. She is small, even for an elderly woman, but moves swiftly and decisively in the pitch black. If the average person could become accustomed to the light, or lack thereof, they would instantly be drawn to a pair of cold, grey eyes piercing through the darkness. Some Evanston residents have sworn her teeth are sharpened.
She is Elizabeth Tisdahl, the mayor of this sleepy town (although she herself does not require much more than 17 minutes of rest per week). Having watched over this quiet northern suburb in various capacities for the past 26 years, she understands better than anyone the terrible blight that constantly threatens its peace-loving citizens. She fights this plague because she knows she must. She fights because she knows she is the only one who can.
She fights, because within the city limits there are underage kids. And some of them may be drinking.
Sarina Bhandari describes herself as a typical college sophomore. “I would say I’m pretty normal,” says the San Francisco native. “I like milk, denim socks, and looking out over the confluence of rivers. I like dancing with my girlfriends on a Friday night, and yeah, I drink even though I’m only 20.”
It is for her final comment that, one year ago this week, her normal college life was shaken to its foundations. Bhandari is part of the estimated 100% of underage American college students who drink alcohol. In most places from New York to London to Tokyo, this is merely another part of life. But, unbeknownst to her, Evanston is not most places, a fact she discovered at a friend’s party last summer.
“I was at my friend [name retracted by request]’s house, sharing a few bottles of wine with a few other friends and getting ready to go out for the night. (She) went into the kitchen to grab a bottle opener, and all of a sudden all the lights just cut out.”
What happened next is unclear, but Bhandari claims a shrouded figure rushed through the darkness towards the kitchen, after which Bhandari heard her friend scream. Moments later, the lights were restored, but her friend was missing.
“I looked everywhere,” she says, her face falling, “But she had disappeared.”
Stories such as this one have become commonplace since 2009, when Tisdahl took over as mayor. To hear Tisdahl tell it, she is a soldier in the battle against the evils and corruption of the Devil’s liquid. To hear her tell it, however, one would need to speak Parseltongue.
“Hiiiiisssssssssssssssssssssssssssssss,” says Tisdahl. “Hiiiiissssssssss. HHHHHHIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIISSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSS.”
To understand the mayor’s stance, one needs to understand her past: a past that molded her to become an alcohol-fighting machine.